ST. HELENA, Calif. — For too long, food waste has been the pink elephant in the room, or kitchen.

"We work around it. We accept it," said Andrew Shakman, president and chief executive officer of LeanPath, a Portland-based company that offers food waste tracking systems for the foodservice industry. Shakman was the key speaker in a session titled Low Hanging Fruit; Strategies for Reducing Food Waste and Increasing Quality & Profitability at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone's Flavor, Quality and American Menus leadership retreat Sept. 9-12.

"When I used to discuss this, people would kind of glaze over," Shakman said. "That doesn't happen anymore."

Reducing food waste and finding sustainable ways of disposing food waste are climbing the ladder on foodservice operators' priority lists. Part of the reason is that the cost of food has risen 14% since 2006, Shakman said.

"We're not in a world with a lot of cost relief," Shakman said. "And how do we react? We're reducing quality, reducing variety. But the other way of attacking is to focus on food cost from waste."

With the sustainability movement, Shakman said in another 10 years, food waste will not be allowed in landfills.

"There are some smart folks in the Silicon Valley making that prediction right now," Shakman said. "Waste and sustainability are very tightly linked concepts."

Shakman said the first thing foodservice operations should be trying to do to reduce food waste is to reduce the source of food waste.

"If you find your house flooded, do you grab a mop? Or do you go find the leak?" Shakman asked.

After source reduction, Shakman said feeding hungry people, feeding animals, finding industrial uses and composing should be considered before incineration or landfills are used.

"Right now most are moving from disposal to composing, then to reusing, then to reduction. Exactly backwards," Shakman said.

Catering businesses can be especially guilty of letting food waste happen at the source.

"It's a big pet peeve of mine to go with this, 'It's been paid for' attitude," Shakman said.

Tracking food waste is a good way for operations to establish a baseline from which to compare improvements, Shakman said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as of Sept. 27, was still working on a new Food Waste Management Cost Calculator, which was expected to be released anytime.

"As an industry we should be striving for 0% food waste," Shakman said.